It’s not economical, it’s not safe and everyone thinks it should be shut, but the Badarpur Thermal Power Station (BTPS) is operational again.
The status of BTPS is baffling, to say the least. All stakeholders — the Centre, Delhi government and private discoms — agree that the plant should be shut down for environmental and practical reasons but the plant continues to breathe toxins into the Capital. Going by the pace of work, Delhiites will have to continue breathing emissions from the ageing BTPS throughout 2018 as well.
A long wait
The crucial 400/220 kv Tughlaqabad sub-station that would take the load off BTPS has been delayed by over two years. The plant was scheduled to be ready by 2015-16, but the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL) which is building the sub-station, has only started preliminary work a few weeks ago.
“The delay happened because of land issues which consumed over a year. Finally, land has been allotted and the contractor has begun preliminary works on the ground,” said a Power Grid official. Apart from Tughlakabad, the Centre is going to build three more substations in Rajghat, Karampura and Papankalan at an estimated cost of Rs 7,500 crore.
The latest deadline for commissioning the project is June, 2018. Sources say that PGCIL, a PSU, could not get land due to a tussle between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and Centre.
It is only during peak summers that the Badarpur plant becomes vital as it feeds electricity to south Delhi areas like Okhla, Kalkaji and South Extension among others. The rest of the year, the Capital is not dependent on supply from the plant. It is crucial, therefore that the work on plants that can take the summer load off Badarpur be expedited.
Around five years ago, two other alternatives were mooted to act as a back up till Tughlaqabad sub-station was ready. For this, the state government run Delhi Transco Limited (DTL) had to lay a 220 kV circuit line from Maharani Bagh to Sarita Vihar and another from Masjid Moth to Okhla. However, the work for either of the projects has not even begun.
“Even if Tughlaqabad is not ready, these two projects alone could have helped to make BTPS obsolete to a great extent. The one in Maharani Bagh would take the load off BTPS to feed Sarita Vihar. Similarly, around 150MW of load would be shifted from BTPS if the Masjid Moth line is ready,” said Prem Prakash, MD at Delhi Transco Limited (DTL). When asked why the projects are yet to see the light of day, he attributed it to “lack of funds.” “Distribution companies are not paying our dues which adds up to around Rs 4,000 crore,” Prakash said.
BTPS supplies only about 7.9% electricity to the city in the peak summer months. A study by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2015 called ‘Heat in Power’ analysed and rated coal-based thermal power plants on nearly 60 environmental and energy parameters. It rated 40% of the plants (around 18 of the 47) as having a score less than 20%, based on various parameters.
NTPC’s Badarpur plant was declared the poorest performing of all. It stated that the plant which contributed a relatively meagre share of Delhi’s power contributed around 80-90% of the particulate matter, SOx and NOx (Major pollutants) from the energy sector in Delhi.
“There is no back-up line through which power could be fed to these areas in case of exigencies. Anyway only two out of the five units of the plant are functioning and their emissions are well within the prescribed norms,” a National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited spokesperson said. The company runs this 43-year old plant.
Delhi govt ready to give up
The Delhi government says it can run without the Badarpur plant as Delhi is a power surplus state. “The Capital has power arranged to the tune of 7,000 MW and Delhi can run even without the plant as it supplies power when the peak demand goes high which accounts for only 3-5 days in summers,” said power minister Satyendar Jain.
He added that in 2015, the government had written to the Union minister of power Piyush Goyal for surrendering power purchase agreement (PPA) with NTPC towards BTPS. “But our proposal was rejected. Financially too the Delhi government stands to benefit from closure of the plant as power from the plant is quite expensive compared to that procured from other thermal power sources. BTPS’ rates fluctuates between Rs 4.5 to Rs 5.5 per unit, whereas, average cost from other sources is Rs 2.5-3.5,” Jain said.
Discoms don’t want it
Private power distribution companies said no matter the plant is shut or functioning, they have to pay fixed costs for all the five units of the plant. “Power tariffs are high because of issues like these. Discoms annually have to shell out Rs 350 crore only as fixed costs (in addition to the procurement cost). Even if only two units are functioning, we have to pay for all the five units which ultimately adds up to the mounting regulatory assets,” the discoms said.
They reiterated that shutting the plant won’t even impact Delhi’s power supply. “Power availability won’t be a problem. Delhi has never had shortage of electricity, outages occur due to local faults. If Badarpur plant is shut, it is likely to reduce tariffs by 20 paise per unit,” discoms said.
Watch the flyash
According to Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) even if NTPC is utilising the flyash produced as by-product in activities like brick making and construction of roads, it is the transportation of the fine pollutant that actually needs immediate attention.
“It doesn’t help if flyash is transported in open trucks as the wind lifts them in the air. We have asked that flyash at the Badarpur plant should be transported starting February 1 only in special flyash containers,” said Sunita Narain, member of EPCA.
According to Sunil Dahiya, campaigner of Greenpeace India, the Badarpur power plant is the single largest air pollutant emission source within the capital. “Delhi does not need it. The power generated by the plant is not only dirtier in terms of the pollution caused, but also more expensive. The decision to reopen the power station is wrong from the environmental, economic and overall sustainability perspective,” he said.
It’s been nearly two years since the fuel guzzling Badarpur plant has been operating intermittently. With the plant having lived much more than its shelf life of 25 years, it’s about time it is closed to help us breathe better.
While a proposal to convert BTPS into a gas-based plant that would increase its capacity to 1050 MW is pending, NTPC said there has been no progress on it as yet due to lack of gas availability.